Are free ranging primates at risk of developing diabetes in peri-urban areas?

What is the problem?

Observations of baboons in the Cape Peninsula within the City of Cape Town have hinted that some individuals may in fact be suffering the consequences of poor diet, just as humans are. Baboon monitors (humans that act as baboon police) have even gone as far as to report that some of these regular raiders are becoming overweight and lethargic, and some showing signs of hair- and teeth-loss. Apart from the physical symptoms observed, these baboons that are consuming processed foods high in sugar and fat may also run the risk of developing insulin resistance and type II diabetes.

This project investigated whether Cape Towns’ urban baboons are  eating their way towards developing insulin resistance and type II diabetes. To do this, we compared the results with baboons that were never had access to human foods.

We specifically measured the glucose transport and insulin signalling complex within skeletal muscle, as these pathways easily becomes resistant to insulin. 

Baboons in the Southern Cape breaking into a holiday house and causing havoc.

What was found?

The main findings were that the baboons from the Cape Peninsula:

  • were heavier
  • had more teeth problems, and
  • had lower active insulin receptor complexes

than control baboons. 

Conclusion

The consumption of foods high in sugar and fat may put the Cape Peninsula baboons at risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. 

Future directions

We continue to monitor baboons in the Peninsula, and will focus on specifically on diabetic and cardiovascular risk factors, such as HbA1c and fructosamine. This research is conducted with the City of Cape Town and Cape Nature.

If you are interested in pursuing an MSc or PhD in this field, please contact the MyoLab.

Research team

The team comprises of the following:

  • Dr Cecile Reed – University of Cape Town
  • Dr Dorothy Breed – City of Cape Town
  • David Leith – Honours 2013
  • Julia van Velden – Honours 2013
  • Buhle Mpofu – Honours 2015
  • Kathryn van Boom – MSc 2019